The chronicles of Ethiopian American life, outlooks and experiences.

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“Ethiopian Family Taboo: Wait…Mom is Really My Grandma?!”

I always thought it would be cool to have a complicated family. When I was growing up, I had friends with parents who were divorced, which resulted in an abundance of  step-fathers and step-mothers, step-brothers and step-sisters, half-brothers and half-sisters and even more extended relatives. It sounds chaotic, which it could be at times, but it was fairly stable for what it was. There wasn’t too much animosity, as far as the kids were aware, the adults exchanged pleasantries, shared responsibilities and those who had none just moved on with their lives. This goes the same for kids whose parents had children from previous marriages or past relationships. Often times, the current husband/father in the family would assume the role even if the child was not his own. It is also natural for families to adopt children and explain to them that they were adopted at a young age. These are all common family events in American culture but that is not quite true of Ethiopian culture.

tabooThere’s a certain dark cloud of shame, stigma and secrecy surrounding the family dynamics mentioned above, but why? Well, after numerous observations within my own surroundings, I have concluded that Ethiopians like drama. WAIT, i’m just kidding! PLEASE don’t turn that into a stereotype! In all seriousness though, there’s a particular pride attached to being a woman’s “first” or having been the “only man” to have married a woman or “the only father” to her children. In addition, there’s a stigma attached to telling kids or young people, THE TRUTH. Of course I don’t mean parents should be explaining in detail every familial issue to their 7-year old but please do not tell the child that her grandmother is, in fact, her mother. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that child will eventually figure out that her 70-year old grandmother could not have possibly had her at age 62. (Okay, I know it’s possible in rare ocassions but it’s definitely not common, you get my point) I do, however, believe that there are a number of Ethiopians who have evolved from this and have stopped making up stories to explain various family dynamics to their children, relatives, neighbors or strangers and I applaud those individuals!!!

As an Ethiopian American girl, I vote to adopt a culture of openness that is so often found in American families. Being open and honest can truly be life changing; it stops you from the vices of lying and carrying  lifelong secrets. So what if your daughter had a child out of wedlock? Odds are, your family and friends already know about it and were willing to help in anyway possible. Why then, would you make your family and friends lie by making up stories about who the child’s parents are? Don’t doubt the ability of children or the people around you to understand your life and your decisions. Despite the craziness of the world, I truly believe that all people are inherently good, that undoubtedly applies to my Ethiopian people, so let’s all give each other a chance to know one another’s truths and learn from them. Family is the perfect place to start.


Ethiopian American Girl’s Sister ;)

Footnote: Hey readers, as you may have guessed, I am the sister of Ethiopian American Girl. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share her blog space as an outlet for my own experiences and thoughts as an Ethiopian American girl, she’s so kind right?! Well,  just wanted you all to know that’ll be my official sign off at the end of any blog post authored by me so you know how to differentiate between the two of us in this crazy blog world :)

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SUCCESS: Who has it easier…the Immigrant or the American born Ethiopian?

I have heard this question posed before.  I heard someone say that the Ethiopian Immigrant has it easier , or an easier path to success than the American born Ethiopian.  In other words the statement was made to imply that the Ethiopian born Immigrant tends to be more successful than the American Born Ethiopian.  The conversation revolved around the issue of success and what it takes to be successful.  I strongly disagree with that statement, in fact I don’t think one group has it easier than the other.  I think both groups face various challenges along the way to success.

First I want to answer the question of what success is.  Success is when opportunity meets preparation.  This means that you have to always work hard and prepare for the ultimate goal that you want to achieve. That way when the opportunity presents itself you can leap toward it.  Work ethic is what brings about success.

There are various types of Ethiopian Immigrants.  There are those that immigrate specifically for school with student visa.  Others have the famous DV, and others were invited by other family members through the green card invitation process.  They all have one thing in common, they have something to lose if they don’t work hard.  The Ethiopian Immigrant is forced to work harder than most because they have obstacles to overcome.  The student visa holder may lose his or her visa if he/she fails out of school.  He / She doesn’t have a family support group in the U.S. and is forced to adapt and navigate on his/her own.  The student visa holder not only holds the weight of family expectations on his/her shoulder but also serves as a representative of Ethiopia in his / her institute.  (Those are some pretty heavy burdens for your average 18-22 year old to have).   The Ethiopian Immigrant has to overcome cultural boundaries and language barriers.  The Ethiopian Immigrant has to work twice as hard just to keep up.  I will agree that not all Ethiopian Immigrants are successful.  Some go down a slippery slope of trouble that they can’t turn back from because they’ve gotten caught up in the wrong crowd.  (i.e. the recent bank robber that escaped from jail in VA, my ‘brozer’ did you really think you weren’t gonna get caught….welcome to America bruh).  Taking those characters out of the picture, for the most part the Ethiopian Immigrant is constantly working hard, meaning they are always PREPARING. That way, whenever opportunity comes knocking the Ethiopian Immigrant is ready to meet it .  The Result: SUCCESS.

On the  other hand there is an argument to be made that the American born Ethiopian has it easier and is therefore more likely to succeed.   The American born has all of the opportunities in the world.  The American born Ethiopian has parents who are Immigrants and who already worked hard and in most cases became successful.  These parents do everything they can to afford their child with opportunities that they did not have.  The American born Ethiopian doesn’t have to work as hard to get certain opportunities because a lot of times the heavy lifting was already done by the Ethiopian Immigrant parent.   Language is easy, understanding the environment is easy, and therefore success should be achieved more easily.  Yes this true but necessarily always true.  See as an American born Ethiopian, we still face challenges.  Sometimes we get lost in this dual culture and have a difficult time figuring out where we fit in.  We make mistakes.  Sometimes because life wasn’t as challenging, we make silly mistakes that we pay heavily for.  See, while yes the American born Ethiopian may have a lot of opportunity, sometimes we just aren’t prepared to meet it.  (I say WE because I am an American born Ethiopian ‘ethiopianamericangirl’, and I do consider myself to have had a lot of opportunities at the hands of the hard work that my Immigrant parents did in the past, however I won’t lie, sometimes in life I just wasn’t fully prepared and some opportunities passed me by.  On the other hand, once I started really working hard, every opportunity I had I was able to jump on.  Law School, two state bars, and more is yet to come).   Those American born Ethiopians that are most successful are the ones that constantly work hard, have a driving force inside of them to reach for their goals and are extremely ambitious.  What does this mean, although opportunity is everywhere, if the Ethiopian born American doesn’t work hard and constantly prepare he/she doesn’t succeed.

The moral of the story:   Always work hard. Always be prepared, When opportunity comes knocking LEAP.

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Body Image in Ethiopian culture…Wofersh….

In America, it would be considered rude to walk up to someone who you haven’t seen in a very long time and say “HI , Wow you’ve gained a lot of weight”.  That would not be okay by any means.  In Ethiopian culture, it is completely normal for someone to do that.  “Indaye , Wofersh!” “Wow you’ve gained weight”.  Is a common thing for someone to say and no one will react negatively at all.  It is a statement that often is laughed off.  It is an accepted way of communicating and no one thinks twice about it.  When Ethiopian meets American, or an Ethiopian American like myself, who teeters between both worlds hears such statements it is accompanied with a bit of a sting.

Several years ago a family friend came to visit my parents at our home.  I was probably in my freshman year of college and was probably at the peek of any weight gain I have ever had.  I think the last time this family friend (really a stranger in my eyes) had seen me was when I was probably 7 years old.  My mom called out to me so I may greet the guest.  I came skipping down the steps (because I really don’t walk down stairs to this day) to greet this guest (STRANGER).  She looked at me, kissed me (the traditional three cheek kiss) and said “Indaye BETAM WOFERECH”.  Translation: “Wow, She gained a lot of weight!”  My instantaneous reaction was to stay quiet, look down, and snuggle on the couch next to my mother looking for her to defend me.  Within an instant this woman had shrunk me to a small child.  I was very irritated.  I wanted to say, LADY YOU DON”T KNOW ME!!  My mom, who is great at understanding that she is raising an Ethiopian American, realized that I probably did not understand this guest (Stranger’s) mannerism.  My mom said something to smooth over the conversation, (I don’t remember what, I was too embarrassed, annoyed, frustrated).  The evening continued to go forward, I went back to my room and the family friend, guest (STRANGER) finally left our house and I was able to come out of hiding.

Sometimes (OFTEN) when Ethiopians say things to Ethiopian Americans, they don’t realize how their words can sting or be misunderstood.  A lot of times Ethiopian Americans directly translate whatever is said to us in Amharic, this leaves room for great misunderstanding.  Maybe we are just too sensitive as Ethiopian Americans, or maybe Ethiopians just lack sensitivity.  Statements like this can create body image issues for young Ethiopian American Girls.  I think statements like this should not be thrown around casually because it tares people down.  Lucky for me she wasn’t able to break down my self confidence.  But can you imagine, this conversation was likely over 8 years ago and it still is engraved vividly in my mind.

It is important that we always look at both sides of every issue.  Likely the reason for this woman’s comments were not to hurt or offend anyone.  It is just a mannerism and a way of talking to people prescribed by Ethiopian cultural norms.  I know she didn’t mean to be hurtful and while I see her side of the story I wonder if she can see mine….

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Raising your kid “Ethiopian” or “American”

When raising your child in America, should you instill Ethiopian values or American values? Is there any American way to raise a child and an Ethiopian way to raise a child? (insert any other immigrant group besides Ethiopian if applicable).

Ethiopians that immigrate to America from Ethiopia are forced to raise their children in an environment totally different from the one that they grew up in. Can you imagine, raising your child in a place where you have never lived before? Language barriers, cultural barriers, fitting into society are all barriers that the immigrant parent has to overcome. How does he or she navigate through these obstacles and raise a child at the same time? I can’t imagine. But people do it every single day. And amazingly the kids turn out just fine. But sometimes, they take a turn for the worst. Sometimes the concept of dualism ends up causing confusion rather than stability.  So where do you find the balance?

Ethiopian parents (or any immigrant parent at that) cannot attempt nor pretend to know the American culture perfethiopian american flagectly. I think creating a mutual understanding between the child and the parent will allow the child to see that the parent will remain in control. The issue is that kids figure out how to fit into the dominant culture (American culture) faster than the newly immigrated parents do.  Children are really like a  sponge and adjust much more quickly than the parents do.  Here’s where I think the balance comes in, Parents should simply raise their kid however they feel most comfortable.  Don’t try to conform into a culture that you know nothing about, because then you just look ridiculous and your child won’t respect you.  I think that the fear many have is that raising their child with Ethiopian norms will create an identity crisis.  Listen, trust me there are way more things going on in the world that will cause an identity crisis.  (I know that is coming out SOO HARSH sounding, but its the truth).  When you , the parent, show confidence in your own culture and parenting style, your child will respect you and you will remain in control.  Honestly, the same morals, values and rules of society apply around the world. So don’t worry, you won’t confuse your child.

You might be saying, how can you be so sure about these results. Honestly I’m not. I don’t have kids. I’ve never actually raised a child. But I did grow up in a big family. My parents did raise me using their dominant culture, Ethiopian culture. They made me respect their culture, not by force but by showing me that their culture was something to be proud of. They made me feel like it wasn’t anything different than any one else, in fact they made me feel like it was my own. I instinctively crated a sort of dualism in my mind.  On the other hand, (this next comment is solely based on my own social community observations) it is my observation that parents that try to assimilate to American culture, when it is something they actually have not adapted to, seem to lose control of their child.  I know I talked about issues relating to Identity Crisis in previous posts, but I don’t think being raised with a dualism in my culture is the sold reason for that identity crisis.  (And It wasn’t really a CRISIS per se, I survived!!)  I think that identity crisis is inevitable for anyone coming of age in this multi cultural multi ethnic society called America!

This is just my Ethiopian American Girl opinion: Balance who you are as an individual and when you show confidence in who you are, your child will respect that.  That has been my experience.  Please share your experience and opinions here!!


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Whose wedding is it anyway???

No I’m not planning my own wedding.  Growing up in an Ethiopian family I have had the grand opportunity to attend MANY Ethiopian weddings.  As I have gotten older I have had the opportunity to see many friends and family members get married.  Now as an adult I am getting the chance to celebrate and help prepare for weddings with family and friends.  It is an absolutely exciting time, and I can’t wait to one day plan for my own Ethiopian American Wedding.

Who should be the focal point when planning the wedding?  Is it what the parent’s want? Is it what society wants? Is it what the bride and groom want?   I recently heard someone say “Who cares what she thinks, as long as we are happy!”  PAUSE……UMmmmmmmmmmmm I would think the bride and groom’s opinion is of great value.  In fact I believe that if the bride and groom are unhappy with the wedding planning, the guest list, or whatever details there may be, there is no point in even having the wedding at all.  Can you imagine, the bride and groom looking around at their guests on their wedding day wondering….”who are these people?” “why are the flowers arranged like this?” “I really hate the food”.

Although this may seem absolutely ridiculous, I have discovered is that there are Ethiopian families and parents that actually believe that this statement is true and absolute.  In Ethiopia, and among most immigrant cultures, the wedding of a child is the greatest celebration and accomplishment for the family.  (the fact that getting Married, although it is a beautiful wonderful amazing thing, is the greatest accomplishment is an issue in and of itself, i mean I would have liked a gigantic large huge 30,000 dollar party for my law school graduation, but I digress).  The greatest most expensive accomplishment is the Wedding!! (SO I guess I will have my gigantic large overpriced party when I get married, I digress again).

Seriously, culturally and historically weddings are a communal celebration.  Everyone was invited, no expense was spared.  In Ethiopia the celebration lasted a whole week.  People celebrated every night of the week in preparation of the wedding and everyone helped put the event together.  In America, as an Ethiopian American, we don’t have the luxury of getting the whole community to participate in the celebrations.  The nuclear family becomes responsible for all the burdens associated with putting on such a large celebration.  However, our families still want to hold onto that portion of the culture and still invite the ENTIRE COMMUNITY.  A need for holding on to some form of the culture our parents grew up in, the cross over of Ethiopian and American creates conflict between parent and child.  It becomes a war when trying to strike that balance between cultural preservation and practicality in today’s American culture and economy.  The Ethiopian American struggle once again.

Here’s this Ethiopian American’s point of view.  The people getting married should be in control of what happens on their wedding day.  Yes, parents should also have a voice in some portions of the celebration, but parents need to take their child’s (now soon to be Mr. or Mrs.) desires into account.  What’s the point of having a celebration if the person you are celebrating isn’t enjoying it.

Share your thoughts here!   I would love to hear some personal stories from people who are actually going through this or have gone through this.  Your perspective is appreciated!!!


Tsom (The fasting Season)

Tsom, the tsomEthiopian Christian fasting season has officially started. Tsom is the fasting season before Easter. Christianity is a huge party of Ethiopian culture and fasting/ Tsom  is a normal part of the culture. So what do we do during the Tsom season? Essentially everyone who is fasting or participating in Tsom is adopting a Vegan lifestyle. No butter, meat, or any other animal product. There are so many substitutes for the staple foods in the Ethiopian diet that really fasting becomes easy when you are living in an area where there are a lot of Ethiopians or even when living in Ethiopia.
However, what about those people that live in an area where there isn’t easy access to vegan food, or the Ethiopian food substitutes. It becomes a lot more challenging to follow the vegan diet.

My only problem with Tsom, from a cultural stand point, is that it causes the individual to focus so much on the food that they eat and forget the reason for the season. Tsom is a time to prepare for the rising of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a time to prepare our mind, body and soul for Easter. I think it is important that people combine both the mind and body aspect with the spiritual aspect. Sometimes I find it harder to focus on that entire thing when you are trying to figure out what to eat during the Tsom season.

I have participated in Tsom in the past. I found it to be a challenge. I would say I was fairly successful in keeping with the dietary restrictions.  The most amazing part of Tsom is the unifying concept behind it.  All people, whether rich or poor have this one thing in common.  It brings people with political and cultural differences together.  We all end up eating the same things, there is no distinction between class or even political view.

Tsom requires a lot of dedication and focus.  What is your take?  Does Tsom unite or divide? Does it really allow people to focus on preparing for Easter?  Share your thoughts here and let’s keep the conversation going!


Understanding your rights

Imagine yourself in a foreign land, you don’t understand the language, you don’t understand the culture and you don’t know anyone else that shares a similar experience as you. You try to fit in as much as you can with no success. You try to navigate your way through education, employment, housing, and legal issues. You are getting by, but most of the time you have absolutely no idea what is going on.

So many people in the United States share this experience. Not just Ethiopians. Many immigrants as a whole. I have come face to face with so many people who become intimidated by the court systems in this country. I don’t blame them. It is not only intimidating to someone who is from a foreign country, it is intimidating even for those of us who have grown up here.

As an attorney, one of my biggest concerns is that so many people don’t know their rights. People are automatically intimidated by the legal system, and assume that an accusation is a finding of guilt. However that is not at all the case. I can only help those I know, but how do we help those throughout the country. I find that people are often frightened by the possibilities of punishment by a harsh legal system. They are not to be blamed for these fears. It is true, what is one to do, if no one around you knows what you are saying. How do you preserve your rights? How do you say I want an attorney when you don’t know how to say that? I believe it is the obligation of the police, those who have first contact in many cases, to try to explain things in a culturally sensitive manner so that people are not automatically frightened and intimidated. We must avoid admissions of guilt when people aren’t really guilty.  This can be done by sharing knowledge and remembering that We ALL HAVE RIGHTS!

It is my desire and hope that minority communities, especially the Ethiopian Community as a whole can begin to look past the various barriers that stand in the way of unity.  Overcoming that obstacle will lead to a community that is large in number, united and moves forward to tackle these issues.  Different people know different pieces of information, but if we don’t share that information how can we possibly move forward and grow.  While I advocate being helpful to one another and supportive and sharing knowledge to advance our community I must also say that those that are seeking assistance, advice or help must also take some responsibility.  You have to use the information you are given for it to be useful.  You have to ask for help to receive it.  And you have to remember that everything has a time and a place and when asking someone to help you it should be on that person’s terms , not on yours.


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